United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, speaking at his inaugural address to fellow Americans on March 1933, remarked, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” These words, spoken long ago by one of the most influential American Presidents, seem to resonate in our political environment today. Indian politics seems to be entering an uncomfortable state of perpetual fear. This state of paranoia is defined by feelings of suspicion, mistrust, hopelessness and cynicism combined with ever increasing fear. Political leaders, cutting across party lines, have contributed in their own way to push our political system into this mess by feeding off the fear factor.
The politics of fear needs the continued presence of an external enemy to reenergise itself. This external enemy is projected as a looming threat to the very survival and progress of a particular community, group or an individual. An extreme example of this politics of fear is Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Both the Shiv Sena and its offshoot, the MNS, have thrived on creating the fear of the North Indian population living in Mumbai in the minds of fellow Marathis. They view people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as a “social menace” that needs to be urgently tackled and controlled so that Mumbai can become a safe haven for its original inhabitants.
Our so-called secular brigade teams up now and then and tells the minorities that they better vote for them otherwise communal forces represented by the likes of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will take over and destroy the fabric of our society. Their commitment towards the minorities in terms of their overall growth and development may or may not be genuine but their ability to mobilise the minorities, particularly Muslims, by projecting the threat from the Hindu right cannot be underestimated. The minorities have always been kept in a state of perpetual fear about the looming threat to their very existence if communal forces are allowed to enter the political corridors of power.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar periodically criticises Narendra Modi to keep his secular credentials alive even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is an active partner in his government in Bihar. Fear is strategically deployed as a powerful mobilising political strategy to keep the support of the minorities, particularly Muslims. The parties belonging to the “Secular Camp” give some token benefits and sops to the minorities just before elections to keep them in good humour but do not try to genuinely address or alleviate their socio-economic problem. They know in their hearts that the politics of fear will do the trick instead.
The Saffron Brigade, on the other hand, through its rhetoric and discourse over the years has created a fear psychosis in the minds of middle-class Hindus by focusing on issues such as the population growth of minorities, so-called “infiltration” from Bangladesh, and acts of extremism involving minority youth. Hindus cutting across caste, regional and linguistic lines are asked to unite against a common enemy.
In Uttar Pradesh, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mayawati, has played on the fear factor to keep her flock together. Every time she reaffirms her commitment to the Dalit cause she also projects herself as the ultimate saviour of Dalits. The writing on the wall is clear. Vote for me otherwise non-Dalit forces will retard the growth of the Dalit community and you will never have access to political power, at least not in Uttar Pradesh.
FDI in retail
The recent debate about Wal-Mart entering India is based on the fear that the next door “ Kirana ” shops dotting the social landscape of our neighbourhoods will be washed away by large foreign retailers. No one is bothering to examine the facts and get the true picture. The BJP, the Left and other parties are happy repeating the same words and playing on the fear of the “outside forces” represented by global retail giants like Wal-Mart, Tesco and Metro. We are told this is a repeat of the “colonial era” and Indians must defend their country’s honour against outsiders waiting to pounce on and plunder the national resources.
A robust democracy can only thrive when the social and political atmosphere is free, honest and without fear. It is high time that our political class rethinks its politics of fear and “domesticates” all its internal and external demons so that we can emerge as a confident nation and society.
(A.N. Siddiqui is a Delhi-based commentator.)